10 ways to treat back pain

Ouch, my aching back! Is your back killing you, and is the pain getting worse as your pregnancy progresses? Here are 10 ways to deal.

Back pain during pregnancy is a common complaint – in fact, 75% of pregnant women experience back pain at some point during pregnancy, and 80% have back pain during labour and childbirth. As you gain weight and your centre of gravity changes, the pressure is on your back, hips, and pelvis, which can make for some pretty uncomfortable feelings. At the same time, the pregnancy hormone relaxin is working its magic on your ligaments, softening and relaxing them while your pelvis and hips expand – so the strong, stable base you may have previously had to help you bear your new weight isn’t quite as supportive as before. Your posture also suffers, which can make back pain worse. But you don’t just have to suffer through it. Here are 10 ways you can help yourself if back pain is plaguing your pregnancy.

Posture makes perfect

As your belly grows, your centre of gravity shifts forward, and you overcompensate by leaning back – which can strain your lower-back muscles. So it’s important to practise good posture. Stand up straight and tall, with your chest held high and your shoulders back – yet relaxed, not rigid. Stand with your feet hip-width apart; wide enough to provide support but not so wide you feel like your inner thighs are stretching. Keep your knees soft and not locked. If you’re standing for long periods of time, alternate resting one foot and then the other on a low stool, and be sure to wear supportive shoes.

Sleep on your side

Back-sleeping places weight and strain on your back, so instead, sleep on your side, keeping one or both knees bent (like in the recovery position). Using a pregnancy support wedge or body pillow can also help, or create a nest of pillows to help support your bump so it’s comfortably lifted off of the bed, but also isn’t placing any extra strain on your body.

Dress for success

It’s time, sadly, to ditch the high heels in favour of supportive shoes with good arch support. High-heeled shoes can further shift your balance forward, putting you at greater risk of falling. Flats and low-heeled shoes or boots are great options to help ease some of the back pain you might be feeling from wearing footwear that exacerbates the problem.

Belt up

A supportive maternity belt, also known as a “belly belt” or “smiley belt”, can also give you relief. These belts are available through physiotherapists and specialist maternity wear providers and work by helping support your bump and hips to keep you aimed in the right direction. They sit low under your bump, redistributing the weight of your tummy so it’s not pulling you downward. Caution: If you invest in one of these, make sure it’s the kind meant to be worn during pregnancy, as there are also post-pregnancy support belts which are not suitable for pregnant women.

Try complementary therapies

Acupuncture, pregnancy massage, osteopathy, chiropractic treatment, and herbal remedies may also provide you some relief from back pain. However, before going ahead with any of these alternative treatments, talk to your midwife or LMC to determine whether they’re safe for you at your particular stage of pregnancy. And always choose a provider who is a registered professional and specialises in pregnant women, so you aren’t doing more harm than good.

Let’s get physical

Regular exercise, particularly gentle and low-impact exercise like swimming or aqua-aerobics, can help strengthen your back muscles and relieve back pain. Walking and pregnancy yoga can also help. A physiotherapist specialising in pregnant women is an invaluable source of ideas for bump-friendly, back-friendly exercise.

Please be seated

Choose a chair which distributes your weight over the seat and doesn’t dig into your sides or make you perch awkwardly on the edge. Good back support is a must– invest in a supportive chair cushion or place a small pillow behind your lower back. Sitting on a balance ball can also help a great deal, particularly in later pregnancy, as it provides support and helps strengthen and tone your pelvic muscles.

Lift properly

Pregnant women need to take care not to lift heavy objects, as it can strain your body and cause injury – even from reasonably early in your pregnancy, as the hormone relaxin softens your ligaments and changes your centre of gravity. If you’re lifting small objects, practise safe lifting techniques. Squat down and lift with your legs – don’t bend over and lift with your back. And don’t lift things above your shoulders and head, as the range of motion required will stretch your back uncomfortably.

Stretch it out

A physiotherapist can show you some excellent stretches which can help relieve back pain, but here’s one of our favourites: Get down on a yoga mat on your hands and knees, with your head and neck in a straight line with your back. Pull in your stomach (imagine a string connected to your navel which is gently pulling it into your body). Round your back slightly. Hold this for several seconds, then relax, keeping your back flat. Do five to 10 repetitions. This is great to do first thing in the morning, as your body is preparing for the day, and last thing at night before you get into bed.

Know when to ask for help

Back pain during pregnancy may be common, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss it as something you shouldn’t worry about. Back pain which lasts more than a week, feels severe, or is accompanied by contractions could be a sign of a UTI, preterm labour, or other pregnancy complications. If you have any back pain which is accompanied by spotting or bleeding, fever, burning pain, painful urination, discharge, or any other worrying symptoms, contact your LMC straightaway.

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BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.

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